With the support of CJP’s Jewish Learning Connections, Temple Israel of Natick worked with arts and Jewish learning consultant Tova Speter to create a community art project—a series of blessing banners. After months of planning, lots of learning, studying, sketching, gallons of glue, plenty of paint and important reflection, our banners are ready to be shared.
There are 6 panels; each panel is made up of 4 banners for a total of 24 banners. Each banner represents a blessing from birkot hashachar, the morning blessings, and was created by a group of 2-5 students. Each panel also contains 3 sashes with 6 hand prints each. Every student in our religious school made a hand print. The hands remind us that according to the Talmud, each of the blessings is associated with a physical movement. In other words, we don’t just say the blessings, we do the blessings.
Before the art began, students and teachers did lots of learning and studying about the blessings. And after the banners were complete, we did lots of reflecting and composed artist statements.
Here are some samples of what the students wrote to give you a sense of the depth of the learning that went into the process:
A group of 2nd graders wrote: “The blessing we represented thanks God for ‘creating me in God’s image.’ Being created in God’s image means that we are like God. We are like God because we are creative. God must be creative because God created the world.”
A group of 3rd graders wrote: “Our group’s blessing thanks God for giving us the ability to see. It is about being able to see and about understanding other people because you have to try to ‘see’ other people’s perspectives. Our design has an eagle because eagles have the best eyesight. In the middle of our banner is the roof of a Sukkah [a temporary shelter built for the fall holiday, Sukkot]. When you sit in a Sukkah you have to be able to see the stars in the sky. Even though you can’t see wind, we painted wind on our banner. When we feel the wind on our bodies and hear wind it reminds us that sometimes we use other senses to see.”
A group of 4th graders wrote: “The blessing our group worked on ends with the words, ‘for helping people stand tall.’ This blessing is about helping each other get up when they fall down. Our design is a human pyramid. When you build a human pyramid everybody helps each other. You could say this blessing when you help someone stand up if they fall or if they are sad and you make them happy.”
A group of 5th graders wrote: “The blessing our group chose ends with the words, ‘who heals our bodies in wondrous ways.’ Our blessing is about how God heals our bodies physically and mentally. Our design is a tree that is half dead like in the winter; the other half of the tree is healthy and beautiful like in the summer. This design connects with healing because in the winter the tree may seem almost dead but in the spring or summer God heals it to a leafy tree.”
A group of 6th graders wrote: “Our group chose the blessing, ‘My God, the soul you have given me is pure.’ In this blessing we thank God for letting us be alive, for clean air and for breathing. On our banner is a heart-shaped tree surrounded by wind. The tree gives us air, and the wind is God’s breath blowing on us.”
A group of 7th graders wrote: “Our group’s blessing is said when one puts tefillin [small leather box containing Hebrew texts] on their head. Our design includes an eye with a nose and a mouth. The eye represents God who can hear, see and smell everything that we do. The lips represent the words we say when we pray.”
We are grateful to Temple Israel’s lay leaders who were eager to pilot a new program, our professional staff for cheerleading our efforts, and our administrative staff who produced many set-ups and mopped up lots of glue and paint—even when we were very careful. And, of course, to Tova Speter who kept us focused on the big picture as well as helping us with the details. Our teachers, aides and volunteers pushed themselves—as well as their students—to go deeper and outside their comfort zone. We look forward to these blessing banners enhancing our worship for many years to come.
Robin Kahn is the Director of the Religious School and Teen Engagement at Temple Israel of Natick.